Spanish for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Need to learn more Spanish vocabulary for your upcoming parent-teacher conferences?  These conferences can be nerve-wracking if you’re talking with a mom or dad who doesn’t speak a lot of English and you do not know a lot of Spanish. Interpreters are a huge help, but it’s even better if you can throw in a few words and phrases of your own. So kudos to you for working hard to keep the lines of parent-teacher communication open—even if you need to do it in another language!

(The following is an excerpt from the Lesson 12: Making the Parent-Teacher Conference a Success from the online Spanish in the Classroom course.  If I  missed some phrases below that you need, please put them in the comments below or send me an email.) 

Now let’s get to Spanish words and phrases for positive behaviors, problem behaviors, and of course, offering praise to the students. To see them all together and to study, make sure you check them out as digital flashcards on Quizlet!

Words for Talking About Positive Behaviors

One good way to get off on the right foot is to start by talking about a student’s strong points. So let’s start with six words that will make any parent’s face light up. To use these words, start with “He visto . . . ” which means, “I have seen . . . ” Here they are:

He visto . . . ay  BEE-stoe I have seen . . .
confianza cone-fee-AHN-sah confidence
creatividad kray-ah-tee-bee-DAHD creativity
entusiasmo ain-too-see-AHS-moh enthusiasm
iniciativa ee-nee-see-ah-TEE-bah initiative
paciencia pah-see-AIN-see-ah patience
responsabilidad ray-spohn-sah-beel-ee-DAHD responsibility

Here are some phrases you can use to praise a student’s performance:

Él/ella . . . ayl/AY-yah He/she . . .
toma su tiempo TOH-mah  soo  tee-AIM-poh takes the time
se porta bien say  PORE-tah bee-ANE behaves well
sigue instrucciones SEE-gay  een-strook-see-OH-nays follows directions
obedece las reglas oh-bay-DAY-say  lahs  RAY-glahs obeys the rules
hace la tarea AH-say  la  tah-RAY-ah does the homework
presta atención PRAY-stah  ah-tain-see-OWN pays attention
respeta la propiedad de la escuela ray-SPAY-tah  lah  pro-pee-ay-DAHD  day  lah  ay-SKWAY-lah respects school property
está muy adelantado/a ay-STAH  mwee  ah-day-lahn-TAH-doh/dah is very advanced

Words for Talking about Problem Behaviors

As much as we’d like to think that all of our students jump out of bed excited about coming to class to soak up learning, we know that some of them have a hard time getting in the school groove. Sometimes they’re unmotivated, other times they need extra help, and occasionally they’re getting into serious trouble.

As educators, we need to share this information with our students’ parents. To help in that effort, here are some phrases you can use para explicar (in order to explain) some common behavior problems.

Él/ella . . . ayl/AY-yah He/she . . .
no está interesado/a no  ay-STAH  een-tare-ay-SAH-doh/dah isn’t interested
no estudia no  ay-STOO-dee-ah doesn’t study
se queda quieto/a say  KAY-dah  key-AY-toh/tah stays quiet
siempre llega tarde see-AME-pray  YAY-gah  TAR-day always arrives late
está fallando en sus clases ay-STAH  fah-YAHN-doh  ane  soos KLAH-says is failing classes
tiene demasiado absentismo tee-ANE-ay  day-mah-see-AH-doh  ahb-sane-TEES-moh has too many absences
tiene demasiado absentismo sin justificar tee-ANE-ay  day-mah-see-AH-doh  ahb-sane-TEES-moh  seen  hoo-stee-fee-KAR has too many unexcused absences

Here are words you can use in serious situations to let a parent know that a student’s behavior has crossed the line.

Necesita… nay-say-SEE-tah He/she needs…
detención day-tane-see-OWN detention
disciplina dee-see-PLEE-nah discipline
ser suspendido/a sair  soo-spain-DEE-doh/dah to be suspended
ser expulsado/a sair  akes-pool-SAH-doh/dah to be expelled
una llamada a la casa OO-nah  yah-MAH-dah  ah  lah KAH-sah home phone call
una conferencia con los padres OO-nah  kone-fare-AIN-see-ah  kone  los  PAH-drays parent conference
un castigo oon  kah-STEE-goh punishment
una referencia del maestro OO-nah  ray-fare-AIN-see-ah  dale  mah-AY-stroh teacher referral
una advertencia OO-nah  ahd-bare-TANE-see-ah warning

Words for General Behaviors

Next, let’s move on to some words and phrases that could go either way in a parent-teacher conference – positive OR negative. The only difference is the “no” after the él or ella.


Él/ella no…

ayl/AY-yah  nay-say-SEE-tah

ayl/AY-yah  nay-say-SEE-tah  no


He/she doesn’t…

asiste a la escuela ah-SEE-stay  ah lah ay-SKWAY-lah attend(s) school
llega a tiempo YAY-gah  ah tee-AIM-poh
arrive(s) on time
hace sus tareas AH-say  soos tar-AY-yahs do(es) his/her assignments
obedece las reglas oh-bay-DAY-say  las RAY-glahs obey(s) the rules
escucha al maestro ay-SKOO-cha  ahl mah-AY-strow listen(s) to the teacher
participa en la clase par-tee-SEE-pah  ane lah KLAH-say participate(s) in class
respeta la propiedad de la escuela ray-SPAY-tah  lah proh-pee-ay-DAHD  day lah ay-SKWAY-lah respect(s) school property

Words for Offering Praise

And finally, here are some great ways to praise a student’s outstanding behavior or effort:

Su comportamiento es . . . soo  kohm-port-ah-mee-AIN-toe  ays… His/her behavior is . . .
Sus notas son . . . soos  NO-tahs  sohn… His/her grades are . . .
Su tarea es . . . soo  tah-RAY-ah ays… His/her work is . . .
mejor may-HORE better
excelente ake-say-LANE-tay excellent
fantástico fahn-TAH-stee-koh fantastic
extraordinario ake-strah-or-deen-AR-ee-oh remarkable
estupendo ay-stoo-PANE-doh stupendous
magnífico mahg-NEE-fee-koh tremendous
bueno BWAY-noh good
satisfactorio sah-tees-fahk-TORE-ee-oh satisfactory

Hopefully you feel more confident in keeping your students’ families informed and motivated. In addition, you discovered how to highlight your students’ achievements and how to point out areas in which they need to improve. Above all, you learned handy words for praising your students when they make you proud! And best yet? You will be able to communicate it all in Spanish at your next Parent-Teacher conference!

Remember that all of these words can be found and practiced as digital flashcards here on Quizlet. What words and phrases did I miss that you still need? Please put them in the comments below or send me an email!

(Note that the above is a tiny excerpt from the 6-week, online Spanish in the Classroom – worth 24 CEUs!  See all of the online Spanish courses that Pronto Spanish offers!)

Latino, Latino/a, Latin@, or Latinx?

I was recently asked the following question in my Spanish for Medical Professionals online class about using gender-neutral and inclusive terms in the Spanish language:

I was wondering, with regards to pronouns and noun endings, what do we do when we want to be gender neutral/inclusive (i.e. not having masculine being default for mixed groups, being neutral when not wanting to assume someone’s gender, variations for nonbinary/genderqueer folks)?

This question generated quite a bit of discussion – and I hope it continues in the comments section as we all continue to learn from each other.


Traditionally, one would use the masculine pronouns and noun endings in mixed groups. For example, in a group of boys and girls, you would say chicos. Some people may say chicos and chicas – but many consider this redundant. Let’s take the word Latino, which is someone of Latin American descent. The term Latinos originally included both males and females.


You may also see words that could have a masculine and feminine ending written as o/a or os/as. For example, you may see chico/a or chicos/as  – or Latino/a or Latinos/as. This is to show that the same base word could have different endings depending on the gender of the person.


Sometime in the 90s, the word Latin@ came into being (as well as chic@s, muchach@s,  etc.) to be more inclusive. The @ represented the “o” and “a” ending combined together to include females. The Spanish word for this symbol – @ – is arroba.


In the last several years, the term Latinx  (pronounced la-teen-ex) is being used more. Latinx is intended to be more inclusive of any gender. The article, Why People are Using the Term ‘Latinx’ from HuffPost dives into the origins and uses of word more thoroughly. NPR also covered this topic a few years ago. Latinx: The Ungendering of the Spanish Language is well worth the 11 minute listen.

“The x [in Latinx], is a way of rejecting the gendering of words to begin with, especially since Spanish is such a gendered language,” explains Jack Qu’emi, from the article and podcast Writer Jack Quémi explains the meaning of Latinx.  The article further discusses that similar to the use of they/them/their pronouns in English (instead of the gendered pronouns he/him/his and she/her/hers), the term Latinx is an attempt to include non-binary people, those who are neither male nor female.

But are all Spanish-speakers on board with the various terms and the attempt for the language to be more inclusive? According to a recent article by NBC News, many consider “Latinx” to be elitist. “As the term gains traction, some scholars are pointing out that there are Latinos who don’t see themselves reflected in the word. Some see Latinx as an elitist attempt to erase a history of more traditional gender roles, or as a distraction from other pressing issues facing Latinos in the United States.”


So how do you “title” folks? Most people will still probably prefer Señor (Mr.),  Señora (Mrs. or older woman), or Señorita (Miss or younger woman). If a person does not clearly fit into one of these categories and is on the younger side, you may want to consider the term joven (young person), which can be used for any gender. Unfortunately, there is not an equivalent gender-neutral word in Spanish for a person who is older.  The takeaway? If you’re unsure, ask which the person prefers. If you have an information form to fill out for your office or workplace, you can do this easily by putting a question on the form asking about preference for title or to be called by the person’s first name.

I am so confused!

Are you now more confused than ever? As a Spanish student, are you not sure how to speak and write masculine and feminine words now? Having been learning and teaching the Spanish language for the past 30 years, it seems to me that the vast majority of Spanish-speakers still use the masculine and feminine ends without giving it a second thought. In fact, many Spanish-speakers may not have even heard about the –@ or –x endings. These endings are often used among the young, progressive, and university-educated Spanish-speaking population. I encourage you to speak with the native Spanish-speakers around you and see what they prefer and why.

As any language evolves over time, Spanish is evolving and it is important to be aware of this. In my opinion, it is fascinating to see attempts to change fairly quickly to include more gender-neutral and inclusive terms in just the last few decades. It will be interesting to see where the discussion and regular usage leads!

Tara’s Favorite Sites to Learn Spanish

There are so many great sites out there to learn Spanish these days! Where does one even start? To help you narrow down your options, I have compiled a list of my favorite sites, broken down by the four language skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing. Happy learning!


Spanish Proficiency Exercises 

“Spanish Proficiency Exercises is a compilation of brief video clips in which native speakers of Spanish from various locations throughout Latin America and Spain demonstrate various language tasks. The objective of the exercises is to provide students of Spanish with the necessary tools to be able to talk about the same topics in Spanish.” The videos are organized into 6 levels: Beginning, Intermediate-A, Intermediate-B, Advanced-A, Advanced-B, Superior.

Learn Spanish by Streaming Videos

Language Learning with Netflix (Chrome Extension)

“Improve your skill on your own, effectively and enjoyably, by watching films and series in the language you study. Subtitles are shown in two language, allowing you to compare the original audio and text with a translation in your language. The extension allows you to listen to subtitles one at a time, and to change the playback speed. There is also a pop-up dictionary, and the extension suggests the  most important words for you to learn.”

TIP: Put on Spanish subtitles and/or Spanish audio on movies (available on majority of DVDs/Blu-Rays) and now on many streaming services.


Spanish Conversation Groups

Learning Spanish vocabulary only goes so far. To truly become fluent, you need to practice the conversation piece. Check out this site to see if there is a Spanish Conversation Group that meets near you.

Online Spanish Tutors

Do you prefer a customized, one-on-one learning experience? Visit the following websites to find an online Spanish tutor. (Wonderful non-profit) (1000s of Spanish tutors)


Read Children’s Stories in Spanish

Children’s stories are some of the best ways to improve your reading comprehension. When you are done with these, go to your local library and check out more Spanish stories.

Current News in Spanish

News in Slow Spanish features native speakers discussing current events and cultures. They slow the audio down so that Spanish students can practice their reading and listening comprehension at a pace they can understand. They also offer dialects from Latin America and Spain. 

TIP: There are many free Spanish news resources on the web, such as GoogleBBCUnivisionTelemund


Make Spanish Accents & Characters

There are so many ways to write the Spanish characters. The best way is to Google, “how to write Spanish accents on (name of your computer or device).” But this site allows you to write Spanish characters on any device with internet access!

An App to Practice Spanish Writing

HelloTalk is essentially a social media site built specifically for language learners. Connect with Spanish natives all around the world. They teach you Spanish while you teach them English.

Other Sites to Learn Spanish

Verb Practice

Comprehensive Spanish Learning Site

Duolingo: FREE Language Tutorial

Google Translate (OK for small phrases)

Favorite Online Dictionary (with Discussion Area)

Do you have others you would like to add to this list of great Spanish learning sites? Make sure you comment below or send me your suggestions here.

Spanish for Police Officers: Phrases for Traffic Violations

I bet you have stopped a Spanish-speaker a few times and wished you knew a few more words than the Spanish greetings you learned in high school. Read on to learn some “survival phrases” to make this situation a bit easier. To practice these handy words, make sure you bookmark this Quizlet Flashcard set of the vocabulary presented here, where you can study, practice with games, hear audio, and quiz yourself. (The following is an excerpt from Lesson 10: Describing Vehicles and Traffic Violations from my online Spanish for Law Enforcement course.)

Under the Influence

Today we’re hitting the road again, as we explore all sorts of Spanish words for describing vehicles and traffic violations. By the end of the lesson, you’ll know how to talk about everything from red-light running to illegal U-turns en español. First, however, we’re going to take a quick look at some words you can use when the people you pull over turn out to be borrachos (drunks) or drogadictos (drug addicts). We’ll start by looking at how you can find out if a person took drugs and how you can identify the drugs in question. Here’s a quick list of useful words for getting the information you need:

¿Qué ha consumido? What did he/she/you take?
cocaína cocaine
heroína heroin
esteroides steroids
marihuana marijuana

One caution here, however: When you’re talking with a Spanish speaker about drugs, it’s very important to use the right words. In English, we use the word drugs to refer to both legal drugs like aspirin and illegal drugs like cocaine. In Spanish, however, the word drogas always refers to illegal drugs. You’ll never say drogas when you’re talking about over-the-counter or prescription medicine; instead, you’ll say medicinas.

Now, let’s switch gears and move from drugs to alcohol. We’ll start with three questions you can ask a weaving driver who’s clearly had too many: 

¿Ha estado tomando? Have you been drinking?
¿Qué tomó? What did you drink?
¿Cuánto? How much?

Next, let’s talk about different types and serving sizes of alcohol. If you ever visit Mexican restaurants or bars, you’re probably familiar with the word cerveza—which means beer in Spanish. You can also order whisky or vino (wine) or ron (rum) from a Spanish-speaking bartender. Here are additional words you can use when you’re ordering a drink—and you can use these same words at a crime scene or a traffic stop to ask people how much alcohol they’ve had. 

un vaso (de cerveza) a glass (of beer)
una copa (de vino) a (wine) glass
un chupito (de whisky) a shot (of whiskey)
una botella a bottle

These handy palabras should be a big help when you come across borrachos and drogadictos during your shift. And as a bonus, you’ll know how to order una copa de vino or una botella de cerveza the next time you’re having dinner at a Mexican restaurant. But it’s time to leave the drinks and drogas behind, as we move on to our main topic for today: the words you’ll use when you’re handling traffic violations.

Describing Vehicles

It’s a quiet day, but that’s about to change. As you’re cruising down the street, you get a call about a hit-and-run a few blocks away. You quickly reach the scene, where you find a peatón (pedestrian) with a broken leg. You need to know who hit him—but how can you find out?

You already know how to determine what color the hit-and-run driver’s car is from a previous lesson. For instance, you’ll understand if a witness says it’s blanco, rojo, negro, azul, verde, or amarillo. But that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. Before you can start your hunt, you’ll also need to get some details about what type of vehicle it is. Here’s what you’ll ask:

¿Qué tipo de vehículo es? What type of vehicle is it?

Most likely, you’ll hear one of these answers:

Es un . . . It is a . . .
carro (Mexico)/coche car
troca (Mexico)/camión truck
furgoneta/camioneta van
todoterreno/4×4 (cuatro por cuatro) SUV/4×4 (four by four)
bicicleta bicycle
motocicleta motorcycle

Once you discover the type and color of vehicle you’re looking for, you can start asking people if they’ve seen it. Remember that when you describe the color of a vehicle to a Spanish-speaking person, you’ll put the adjective after the noun in your sentence. For example, to describe a man in a red car, you’ll say, un hombre en un carro rojo. To talk about a woman in a blue van, you’ll say una mujer en una furgoneta azul.

Let’s say that when you follow the clues you’ve collected, you’re able to locate the vehicle involved in the hit-and-run—un carro blanco. At this point, you’ll probably want to ask your suspect one of these questions:

¿Es este su carro? Is this your car?
¿De quién es el carro? Whose car is it?

Of course, you could also say ¿Es su coche? Or ¿De quién es el coche? But if most of your community residents are from Mexico, they’re more likely to use the word carro

Traffic Violations

Whether you work in a big city or a small town, it’s amazing how hair-raising rush hour can be. And if you’re assigned to traffic, there you are—right in the middle of it all.

Trying to stop speeders, stoplight-runners, and tailgaters from causing accidentes is a tough job, and it’s even harder if the people you pull over don’t speak English. To make your job easier, we’ll focus on words you can use to describe some common traffic violations en español.The first phrase we’ll look at is handy when you’re not sure a driver knows what he or she did wrong:

¿Sabe lo que hizo? Do you know what you did?

Next, you’ll want to tell the driver what offense you spotted. As you practice these phrases, be aware that most of the verbs are in the past tense (which we aren’t covering in this course). So don’t try to figure out the conjugation—just see if you can memorize the words. Here are three phrases to get you started:

Cruzó la línea. You crossed the line.
Hizo un giro ilegal. You made an illegal turn.
Manejó a 80 millas por hora. You drove at 80 mph.

Sometimes, of course, people will get in trouble for things they didn’t do. To explain that a person didn’t do something, all you have to do is put the word no in front of the phrase. Here are some examples:

No . . . You didn’t . . .
obedeció la señal obey the sign
cedió el paso yield
usó los intermitentes signal/use the blinkers

Now let’s take a look at one common way drivers often endanger other people in traffic: by failing to stop when they should. When a Spanish-speaking driver fails to stop at the right time, you can use these phrases to explain the problem:

No paró por . . . You didn’t stop for . . .
el semáforo en rojo the red light

(literally means the traffic light in red)

el autobús escolar the school bus
la sirena the siren

The word paró, which we just used, is one form of the verb parar, which means to stop. Another word you’ll hear for stop is alto. So when will you use each word?

You’ll use the verb parar when you want to conjugate the verb—for instance, I stop (paro), you stop (paras), and we stop (paramos). (And just to confuse things a little, people in Mexico use one form of this verb—párese—to say stand up.) Alto, on the other hand, is only used as a command. For example, signs in the shape of a stop sign in Spanish-speaking countries will have the word ALTO on them. A police officer may also open his hand and say alto if he wants you to stop.

Here’s another very useful word you can use to tell drivers what they’ve done wrong. It’s the verb estaba, which means you were. Here are some examples:

Estaba . . . You were . . .
manejando demasiado rápido driving too fast
manejando en contra del tráfico driving against the traffic
por el carril de transporte en grupo in the car pool lane
zigzagueando swerving

Now, let’s put some of these words in context and see if we can figure out what is being said. Miguel is giving his son Ruben one of his first driving lessons. It’s going about as well as you’d expect, if you’ve ever taught a teenager to drive. In other words, it’s a disaster. Let’s listen in and see what Ruben’s doing wrong. When you’re done, check the answer key to see how you did.

Practice Dialog

Miguel: ¡Ay! No paró por el autobus escolar.

Ruben: Lo siento (I’m sorry). Voy a la autopista (highway). Voy a manejar por el carril de transporte en grupo.

Miguel: ¡No! No está preparado para manejar (ready to drive) por autopista. ¡Ay! ¿Sabe lo que hizo? Estaba manejando demasiado rápido. Y no usó los intermitentes.

Ruben: Lo siento. Voy a parar (I’m going to stop) aquí por el semáforo en rojo.

Miguel: Muy bien . . . ¡Ay! Cruzó la línea.

Ruben: Lo siento . . .


Miguel: Hey! You didn’t stop for the school bus.

Ruben: I’m sorry. I’m going to the highway. I’m going to drive in the carpool lane.

Miguel: No! You are not prepared to drive on the highway. Hey! Do you know what you did? You were driving too fast. And you didn’t use your blinkers.

Ruben: I’m sorry. I’m going to stop here for the red light.

Miguel: Very well…Hey! You crossed the line.

Ruben: I’m sorry…

Whew—I’m glad it’s Miguel who has to teach Ruben how to drive, and not me. I’m sure Ruben will be a great driver in just a few more months—but I’m also betting that Miguel will have a few more canas (gray hairs) by then.

More Traffic Violations

I know we’ve covered lots of new words today, and your head is probably spinning like the wheels on a todoterreno. But let’s tackle just a few more phrases, because these additions to your vocabulary are likely to serve you well in the future.

First, you can use the handy phrase no puede (you cannot) to stop drivers from making some dangerous mistakes on the road. Here are some examples:

No puede . . . You cannot . . .
manejar sin licencia drive without a license
aparcar allí park there
girar aquí turn here
obstruir el tráfico block traffic
hacer un giro en U make a U turn

As you can see from the chart, the Spanish verb girar means to turn—so un giro is a turn. However, you may also hear the expression darse la vuelta used to mean to turn

Before we move on to our next set of traffic violations, here’s a quick caution to file away: When you stop someone for a traffic violation, be careful not to refer to the person as a violador, because this word means rapist in Spanish. 

Next, let’s look at a half-dozen more phrases that you’re likely to need at one time or another.

Esta no es su foto. This isn’t your photo.
Su licencia ha sido cancelada. Your license has been revoked.
Su licencia ha expirado. Your license has expired.
Sus placas han expirado. Your plates have expired.
Este es aparcamiento para minusválidos. This is handicapped parking.
Manejó bajo la influencia del alcohol. You drove under the influence of alcohol. (DUI)

You might discover that these phrases are a bit easier to remember than the earlier ones. That’s because so many of the palabras sound like English words.

For instance, foto looks and sounds like photo, and you can sort of see parking in aparcamiento. Expirado sounds a lot like expired, and cancelada is close to cancelled—another word for revoked. In addition, bajo la influencia del alcohol is pretty close to what you’d say to un borracho in English.

I hope some of these words help to ease your anxiety a bit the next time you stop a Spanish-speaking driver. Don’t forget about the Quizlet flashcards (with audio, quizzes, and games) to help you practice!

For more Spanish words and phrases related to teaching and the classroom, check out ed2go’s Spanish for Law Enforcement facilitated by yours truly!

Spanish Survival Phrases for the First Day of School

You may have started school already, or are about to start soon! If you have Spanish-speaking students and parents in your school, read on to learn a few “survival phrases” to make the first few days a bit easier. To practice these handy words, make sure you bookmark this Quizlet Flashcard Set of School Survival Phrases, where you can study, practice with games, hear audio, and quiz yourself. (The following is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my online Spanish in the Classroom course.) 

¡Bienvenidos! Come with me as we welcome Diego, Beatriz, Jesús, and Pepe to our virtual school. All four of them are eagerly waiting to see how their first day goes.

One of the first things you’ll want to do is to find out which languages a student (or parent!) knows and how well he or she knows them. You may already know two questions you can use to find this out:

  • ¿Habla español? = Do you speak Spanish?
  • ¿Habla inglés? = Do you speak English?

Ahora (now), let’s add two more questions you can use to assess a new student’s ability to communicate in English. They are:

  • ¿Lee inglés? = Do you read English?
  • ¿Escribe inglés? = Do you write English?

With those new questions in hand, let’s head off to the front office of our school and see how simple the registration process can be with the help of a new Spanish word.

Words for Enrolling New Students

If there’s one thing common to every culture, it’s paperwork! To get a Spanish-speaking student off on the right foot, you’ll want to make that paperwork as stress-free as possible. But if you don’t know the right words, this can be a difficult task. Well, help is here. We’re going to add another question word to your vocabulary that will take your basic communication skills to a new level.

¿Cuál . . . ?

Yes, it’s that simple! The word cuál means which, but you’ll often use it in the context of what. Here’s a helpful list of ¿Cuál…? questions that can make registration day go much more smoothly:

¿Cuál es su ___? = What is your/his/her___?

  • nombre = name
  • dirección = address
  • ciudad = city
  • estado = state
  • código postal = zip code
  • número de teléfono = telephone number
  • número de celular = cell phone number
  • correo electrónico = email address
  • fecha de nacimiento = date of birth
  • edad = age
  • sexo = sex
  • *lugar de nacimiento = place of birth
  • *nacionalidad = nationality

(*Be careful and sensitive with these last two questions, which may or may not be appropriate in your context.)

See how easy it is to start with the word “¿Cuál?” and simply add whatever phrase you need? You can almost do an entire new student registration just by learning the expression “¿Cuál es su . . . ?” You’ll find this magic expression indispensable in every other area of school life as well.

You would answer with:

  • Mi (nombre, edad, fecha de nacimiento, etc.) es… = My (name, age, birthday, etc.) is…
  • Su (nombre, edad, fecha de nacimiento, etc.) es… = His/her (name, age, birthday, etc.) is…

You may be thinking, “I already know the expression for asking someone’s name—why is it different here?” Indeed, “¿Cómo se llama?” and “¿Cuál es su nombre?” both ask what a person’s name is. The first phrase is more common and literally asks, “How do you call yourself?” The second one, “What is your name?,” is very useful when you’re asking lots of questions at one time.

Now, let’s join Diego and his Mamá in the school office as they go over registration forms with Mrs. Jones, the office receptionista. Like all young children, Diego is still learning about manners—and he’s about to get in trouble with Mamá as a result!

See if you can follow this dialogue, and check the answer key to find out how you did. And notice that to tell your age in Spanish, you say “Yo tengo ___ años,” or literally, “I have ___ years.”

Mrs. Jones: ¿Cuál es su nombre?
Mamá: Su nombre es Diego Garcia Rodriguez.
Mrs. Jones: Gracias. ¿Y cuál es su número de celular?
Mamá: Es 55-54-44-22-22.
Mrs. Jones: ¿Cuál es su correo electrónico?
Mamá: No tenemos correo electrónico.
Mrs. Jones: No problema. Diego ¿Cuál es su edad?
Diego: Tengo ocho años. ¿Cuál es su edad?
Mamá, horrified: ¡Diego! ¡Eso es descortés (that is rude)!
Mrs. Jones, laughing: Está bien. Yo tengo treinta y seis años.

How did you do? Here is an English translation of the dialogue.
Mrs. Jones: What is your name?
Mamá: His name is Diego Garcia Rodriguez.
Mrs. Jones: Thanks. And what is your cell phone number?
Mamá: It’s 555-444-2222.
Mrs. Jones: What is your email address?
Mamá: We don’t have an email address.
Mrs. Jones: No problem. How old are you, Diego?
Diego: I’m eight years old. And how old are you?
Mamá, horrified: Diego!! That is rude!
Mrs. Jones, laughing: It’s fine. I’m 36 years old.

Your new ¿Cuál? questions will come in handy just about every day, especially if you work in administration. If you’d like more practice using them, try answering these questions—and see how many Spanish words you can include in each answer.

  • ¿Cuál es su número de seguro social?
  • ¿Cuál es su dirección y su ciudad?
  • ¿Cuál es su código postal?
  • ¿Cuál es su nombre?
  • ¿Cuál es su lugar de nacimiento?

Welcoming Students and Family Members to Your Classroom

A few simple phrases can go a long way when it comes to helping your Spanish-speaking students and their families feel comfortable in your classroom. The two most important, of course, are those universal words please (por favor) and thank you (gracias).

Another important phrase is de nada, which means “you’re welcome” (or, literally, “for nothing”—as if to imply that the favor you did was no problem). And perdón, which means “excuse me,” is a key word to add to your everyday vocabulary as well.

And let’s not forget about our basic greetings.

  • Hola = Hello
  • Bienvenido (or bienvenida if female) = Welcome
  • Mucho gusto = Nice to meet you
  • Mi nombre es… = My name is…
  • ¿Y usted? = And you?

When dealing with family members, be sure to introduce yourself to each person individually. It’s also polite, if you need to leave a room while others are staying, to say, “Con permiso” (as if you’re asking permission).

Now, let’s add to your list of survival phrases. Again, the great thing about these phrases is that you can say them phonetically without worrying about the individual words.

  • ¿Puedo ayudarle? = Can I help you?
  • ¿Qué necesita? = What do you need?
  • Tiene que . . . = You have to . . .
  • Venga conmigo. = Come with me.
  • Por favor, tome asiento. = Please, have a seat.
  • ¿Sabe dónde está? = Do you know where it is?
  • Sígame, por favor. = Follow me, please.
  • Un momento. = Just a moment.
  • Gracias por su paciencia. = Thank you for your patience.

Now, so far we’ve talked about helping your students understand you. But what happens when a student says something you don’t understand? Here are four helpful phrases that can get you both back on track:

  • Repita, por favor. = Repeat, please.
  • No comprendo./No entiendo. = I don’t understand.
  • No sé. = I don’t know.

In case you’re wondering, there’s really no difference between no comprendo and no entiendoNo entiendo is probably more common among native Spanish speakers, which is why it’s a good idea to learn it. But no comprendo sounds a bit like our English phrase I don’t comprehend, so many people find it easier to remember.

You’ll also find yourself in situations where you’re thinking, “What does that word mean?” or wondering something like, “How do I say ‘solar system’ in Spanish?” In these situations, two simple phrases can quickly bail you out:

  • ¿Cómo se dice . . . ? = How do you say . . . ?
  • ¿Qué significa . . . ? = What does ___ mean?

To practice your new survival phrases, let’s check in with Beatriz, Jesús, and their dad. Papá is taking both children to their classrooms, but he’s completely lost his way in the big school. The children are worried that they’ll be late to class on their first day. They wonder—will they be in big trouble if they’re not in their seats when the bell rings?  Mr. Delgado, the bibliotecario (librarian), spots the family wandering the halls and stops to see if they need help. Here’s how their conversation goes—see if you can follow it, and check the English translation to find out how you did.

Mr. Delgado: ¿Puedo ayudarle?
Papá: Sí. No sé donde está la clase de la Señora Lawrence. ¿Sabe dónde está?
Mr. Delgado: ¡Si! Venga conmigo.
Papá: Gracias. Y tenemos que encontrar (find) la clase del Señor Green también (too).
Mr. Delgado, not hearing the question because of the hallway noise: Repita, por favor.
Papá: Tenemos que encontrar la clase del Señor Green también.
Mr. Delgado, stopping to drop off some papers at the office: Sin problema. Un momento. Gracias por su paciencia. Sígame a las clases de la Señora Lawrence y del Señor Green.
Papá: ¡Gracias!
Mr. Delgado: De nada.

Were you able to understand some of it? Here is the English translation.
Mr. Delgado: Can I help you?
Papá: Yes. I don’t know where the classroom of Mrs. Lawrence is. Do you know where it is?
Mr. Delgado: Yes! Come with me.
Papá: Thank you. And we need to find the classroom of Mr. Green, too.
Mr. Delgado, not hearing the question because of the hallway noise: Could you repeat that, please?
Papá: And we need to find the classroom of Mr. Green, too.
Mr. Delgado, stopping to drop off some papers at the office: No problem. One moment. Thanks for your patience. Follow me to the classrooms of Mrs. Lawrence and Mr. Green.
Papá: Thank you!
Mr. Delgado: You’re welcome.

Beatriz and Jesús make it to their new classrooms just in time to say “presente” (present) when their teacher takes the attendance (la asistencia). They’re certainly glad they met Mr. Delgado!

By the way, it’s nice to introduce your new Spanish-speaking students to any bilingual staff members (like Mr. Delgado in our virtual school) who can lend a hand if the students need help. The more adults your new students can call on for assistance, the less frightened they’ll be. Some schools also welcome new Spanish-speaking students by having bilingual students give them an orientation tour. This can include everything from where the bathrooms (baños) are to how to use a locker. Bilingual students can also explain the ins and outs of things like field trips, parent-teacher conferences, and sick days.

Many students from Latin American countries—particularly those from rural areas—may feel intimidated by the size of a typical U.S. school campus. Lots of them will be coming from small schools without cafeterias, big playgrounds, or gyms, and a large campus may seem overwhelming at first. It’s a big help if you can provide Spanish-speaking students with a map of the campus, including directions in Spanish.

I hope some of these words help to ease your and your student’s anxiety on the first few days. Don’t forget about the Quizlet flashcards to help you practice!

For more Spanish words and phrases related to teaching and the classroom, check out ed2go’s Spanish in the Classroom facilitated by yours truly!

Learn a Language Without Leaving Home

The best way to learn a foreign language is through immersion – ideally for at least a year in a foreign country that speaks that language.  Realistic? Not for most of us. So what are other ways one can learn another language? Luckily, online language learning has come a long way in recent years. A simple Google search shows there are many online resources. For beginners, online courses are helpful as the instructor has already chosen some of the best resources and combined them into specific learning paths. Plus, online resources are a fraction of the cost of immersion! 

1)  Self-Paced Language Courses

The most basic language courses are self-paced, which allows you to work wherever you want – whenever you want   They often provide interactivity with native-speaking voices, exercises with immediate feedback and links to a large variety of web resources. 

In addition to learning the basics through self-paced general language courses, there are now more industry-specific courses – called occupational language courses.  Instead of learning the entire language, perhaps you need a starting point for a specific challenge. For example, a front desk person in the healthcare industry finds language challenges with Spanish-speaking patients. She isn’t interested in fluency – at least not yet – but wants to know a few Spanish phrases to gather information and comfort people coming to the clinic.  Online resources and courses are now available specifically to help her with this language need.   

2)  Instructor Led Courses

Many universities and community colleges offer their own online language courses.  Instructor led courses generally have a set pace and more accountability with specific start and end dates, group discussions and homework. These options are great for students who find more structure helps their learning. Many instructor-led online courses also now include occupational courses to help workers in a specific industry learn what they need for their specific job.

3)  Supplementary Online Resources

What if you already have taken a language course, but you just need to practice it?  With the web, you now can find native Spanish speaking tutors, such as or to help you practice your language skills in the comfort of your own home.  Need help with vocabulary and verb conjugations? Try the many language flashcard sets at or get instant grammar feedback at  Want to practice your Spanish listening skills?  Try the Spanish Proficiency Exercises at the University of Texas at Austin or News in Slow Spanish.  How about joining a language learning community online?  Try LiveMocha or Duolingo

4) Watch a Movie

Don’t forget one of the easiest and cheapest ways to “immerse” yourself – movies from the comfort of your own couch!  Most streaming services, like Amazon Prime or Netflix, have subtitle and audio options where you can listen in Spanish or read the Spanish subtitles. Or you could go “old school” and put in a DVD/BluRay to choose Language or Subtitles options for your selected language. 

And if you do really feel like getting out of your house for a bit, see if there is a local Conversation Group. If you are in a university town, there are probably Conversation Groups already set up that you could join. Just call your local Language Department and see. Or check out In the Spanish language alone, there are over 2200 Spanish Conversation groups around the world. See if there is one near you. Whatever you do, just enjoy the language learning experience and realize that language skills are keys to opening up many new doors.

How to Make Spanish Accents

But just how do I make the á é í ó ú ñ ¿ ¡ ?

There are many ways to make Spanish accent marks and characters on your computer or device.  It depends on what computer or device you are using, as it is different for PCs, Macs, iPads, Chromebooks, etc. Even on a PC, for example, there are several ways you can do it, including changing your keyboard and using ALT + numbers.

The best way is to google it, such as “how to make Spanish accents on a ___PC/iPad/Mac, etc._____”  You can then choose what is best for you. I have started out giving you some ideas, but this is in no way a complete list.

The easiest way that works for anybody with internet access on any device is to go to Just type in what you want in Spanish (including letters with accents, ¿, ¡, ñ, etc.) and then cut and paste into where you need them.


Follow this link for a great description on setting up your International Keyboard. You can also get an add-on for your Chrome browser.  There are many available, so just find one that works well for your needs.


With newer Macs, typing vowels with accents is simple: just press and hold the letter you want to accent. A pop-up menu will come up with all the possible accents. Select the accent you need or press the corresponding number.

For ñ, press and hold the alt key (sometimes known as option). While still holding alt/option, press n. Wait for the ˜ symbol to appear (highlighted in yellow). Now let go of both keys and press n again.

For the upside down question mark, press and hold alt/option + shift. While holding alt/option + shift, press ?.

The keyboard combination for the ¡ symbol may change depending on which computer you’re using. To find it on your keyboard, press and hold the alt/option key. While still holding alt/option, play around pressing a few keys. You’ll see a few random symbols come up, like ∆º¬øæ… Keep going until you find ¡

Smart Phones

To type Spanish accents and characters on your smartphone, just press and hold the letters or symbols and a menu will pop up. Find the character you want and you are set to go!

Microsoft Office

If you’re using Microsoft Office, you can add accents to vowels by pressing and holding the following keys together: Ctrl, followed by ‘ and then the vowel you want to accent.

For example, to put an accent over the letter a, press: Ctrl + ‘ + a =  á


Here are some very thorough directions on how to install the international keyboard your PC.

ASCII Symbols

On my PC, I personally use a method I have used for over 20 years – the ASCII symbols. (There are easier methods depending on your device, but this one works for me.)

You must have a keyboard with a number pad with the “num lock” enabled.

If you want to write an ñ first we have to know the ASCII code which is alt 164.

To write an ñ press and hold the ALT key. While holding down the ALT key, enter the 3-digit decimal code for the extended ASCII character you want to generate (in this case 164) then release the ALT key. What I like about this method is that you should be able to do this in any program.

Here are the different ASCII symbols.

á  160      é 130   í 161 ó  162 ú 163

ñ  164     ¿ 168     ¡173


As I said at the beginning, there are so many ways to add accents on vowels or other Spanish characters. If you did not find a system that works for you or your device, Googling it usually does the trick!